I've taught the course to inner city impoverished teens and pre-teens with a great deal of success. The curriculum works really well with boys, girls, and with classes with boys and girls. I think a lot of that success stems from me being a dependent, positive male role-model to kids in situations where positive, male role models are far and few between.
I was curious how things would turn out in a situation where the home conditions for these students were more ideal - homes with both a mom and dad, college educated parents with good jobs, and homes in a stable economic bracket.
In the class, I give students a lot of room to express themselves in a multitude of creative ways including: creative writing, heart-to-heart discussions, confidence building theatre games, and lots of hands-on exercises meant to challenge participants to think differently about how they interact with the world and their family. It's worked in the past because I treat the students like adults, give them a lot of freedom to be responsible for their own behaviors and establish a safe, judgment-free environment.
What did we do in the class?
One homework assignment including going home and telling everyone in your family that you loved them and noting the reaction in yourself and each of your family members. Did the family member deflect it, take it in, ignore it, or make assumptions?
Another assignment included standing in front of a partner, looking them in the eyes and complimenting them. Both partners were required to note how they felt in the moment, including body language and any feelings that came up.Part two of the assignment included judging your partner.
Another included performing a Random Acts of Kindness. I even had them visit Patience Salgado's Kindness Girl Blog (@kindessgirl) to get ideas. They were required to give to someone anonymously. I told them things like this went into their karmic bank account and directly boosted self-esteem.
We also covered a section on how gratitude helps to boost self-esteem as well and I invited two guest speakers to come in and talk about the subject: Book editor, Valley Haggard and ex-super model Kim Alley. I even had them visit Nancy "Fancy Pants" Illman's blog to see how someone else has found a way to fit gratitude into their own life.
The examples above, to me, make up the foundation of self-esteem - how we deal with love, how we deal with judgments (both positive and negative) and how selflessly we give to others. These are akin to the fundamental drills a coach makes an athlete practice over and over again whether they are just beginning or they are an experienced, highly-paid professional athlete. In basketball, this would be like practicing your free-throw until you could do it in your sleep and then practicing it some more.
I explained to the girls that we often have lofty, confusing, and abstract ideas about how to make the world a better place that aren't rooted in practical, methods of implementation. For instance, it's more acceptable in our culture to go into the post office and tell the clerk off by saying, "You sorry, SOB, I can't believe you're so slow. I hate you," than it is to go in and say, "I really love you."
Often we want soldiers to drop their weapons, but could we except them to be able to look one another in the eyes after doing so and honestly give and receive a compliment and say I love you? Not likely!
We hear people all the time say that we'd like to have a world filled without wars, gang violence, fights, and a society filled with anger, but what then? Isn't everyone escaping through food and video games and drugs because the "what then" scares them? No one seems to be equipped with the skills to interact in a healthy way when we drop our defenses and no one seems to be interested in providing the skills to do so.
Over and over again, even in a safe environment, by repeating the compliment exercises, I couldn't get these girls to give and receive a compliment to one another and feel comfortable about it. When they went home and gave family members compliments, the compliments were either:
a) Deflected - "I think you look great!" "Oh, I think you look great too!"
b) Seen as Ingenuous - "I think you look great!" "What do you want? I know you're only being nice to me for a reason."
c) Ignored - "You're the best." silence or cricket, cricket
The concepts were simple and so were the exercises, but I know that what I put these girls through would have made most adults cringe. How well do you accept a compliment? Do you know what to say when you are judged by someone else? If I asked you to give a compliment every hour for an entire day and an extra compliment every time you heard someone sneeze, could you? Has anyone ever asked you to write down your top 25 goals and dreams?
Despite their awkward teen ways I didn't expect them to really change in 2 weeks. Although the over-all average self-esteem for the class increased by 15 points based on a questionnaire I gave the girls before and after, nothing really prepared me for what I read on the evaluations that I had them fill out on the last day of class.
The majority of girls felt the class was a waste. They felt the exercises were fake. They said the class was disorganized, the exercises were irrelevant, and the environment was creepy.
When I put status updates last week on my Twitter and Facebook profiles, I got a lot of positive feedback for teaching the course. But, I'm just guessing though, that if most adults had the opportunity to participate in a class like this, they'd find themselves rowing the same boat as these girls.
The quandary question then, is this: Is there a problem with our vision in our world or is there a problem with the implementation of our vision? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
For more info about "The Neon Man and Me" and other storytelling projects by me - Slash Coleman - please visit www.slashcoleman.com.